Hannah Silverman is a Brooklyn-based writer and filmmaker. She earned her BFA in Film & Television with a minor in Creative Writing from NYU. She is an Editorial Assistant at Pigeon Pages Literary Journal. Her prose appears in Pigeon Pages, HASH Journal, and 3Elements Review.
She collected elephants. Paintings, figurines, magnets, key chains. A crystal candy bowl with tusks and a trunk. Grey slippers with big, flapping ears. The entire two-bedroom condo like a shrine, a zoo.
It made the holidays easy. We never wondered, what would great grandmother want? Only, does she already have a Dumbo t-shirt?
In her final years, she started to downsize. Every visit was, do you have a use for this elephant paperweight? and take one elephant before you leave. She displayed the most valuable treasures for our appraisal. Elephant-shaped jewels and wooden statues hand-carved in Africa laid carefully across the freshly vacuumed carpet. We’d kneel before the collection as she towered above. Which one speaks to you? Pick something to remember me by.
In the final months, everything was labeled, accounted for. Pink sticky notes went to the children, green to the grandchildren, and blue were for us, the great grandchildren. We each got a stack of blue sticky notes, a pen, and two hours to claim our inheritance. She watched us from the wicker chair beneath the elephant-in-a-bowtie painting. Initial your sticky notes, don’t be greedy, no ink stains on the carpet.
The youngest among us chose toys, stuffed animals, the deck of cards with two elephants for jokers. My brother, always pragmatic, laid claim to the valuables. The solid gold set of elephant earrings with pearls for eyes. Great grandmother frowned. You better pierce your ears and wear those to the funeral. But she let him have them and even gave him the gold pendant to match.
I circled the condo with my pad of blue sticky notes, admiring each item like artworks in a gallery. The framed postcard from my great aunt’s safari vacation. The greeting card with a smiling elephant inside, signed by all of the cousins. Artifacts beloved but ultimately borrowed. I wondered who would get the ceramic mug with big, chipped ears: a gift I’d presented proudly years earlier, before I could even speak.
While the others perused the living room and kitchen, I retreated to the second bedroom. Dim and untouched, prepared for some nameless visitor. The only elephant-less room in the condo. Except, on the windowsill, a lone figurine. Five elephants carved from a single material. They stood single file in descending size order, attached from trunk to tail. A family. I turned them over in my hands. Light as plywood, strong as marble. Ivory, great grandmother said, from tusks, like teeth. The beautiful and gruesome fruit of slaughter. You can’t buy ivory anymore.
We were there on the final day. The great grandchildren. The grandchildren, our parents, must have been there too. But it was we, the great grandchildren, who huddled together on her bed, encircling our matriarch. We told stories and played gin rummy with the elephant playing cards. She didn’t tolerate cheating, and she never let us win.
Elephants remember their dead. They carry the bones to keep them close. We didn’t know it was the last day until there were no more days.
The secret about the elephants, she told me in confidence: I never even liked them that much. She never bought herself a single elephant. The first was a gift, the second a joke. The third made it a collection, and for the next fifty years she was never gifted anything else. Why not tell the family, enough elephants? She took a sip from the mug with chipped ears, shrugged. It makes them happy.